Tag Archives: Christmas

Hope at a Time of Despair

We’re a few days away from Christmas and it’s difficult to see signs of hope. 

We’re heading into another covid winter as infections and deaths again rise.  More than 800,000 Americans have already died from the covid virus.  Vaccines are widely available and medical evidence indicates that the unvaccinated are the ones dying now.  But too many people claim they have a Constitutional right to their “freedom” to refuse the vaccination. 

This argument distorts the Constitution.  Constitutional freedoms extend only to the point where one person’s rights infringe on the freedoms of others.  By claiming a right to reject the vaccine, anti-vaxxers increase the risk of infecting others, thus infringing on the Constitutional rights of others to live virus-free.  Anti-vaxxers also increase the likelihood that we will never reach herd immunity and that the virus will mutate into a form that is vaccine resistant.  

Unfortunately, the political and social disputes about covid and the vaccine are just the latest symptom of the twin diseases of political intolerance and violence.  Our country has a violent history. Therefore, it is disturbing to learn from recent surveys that around a quarter of Republican Party supporters believe it is acceptable to use violence to win political disagreements.   Meanwhile, the leftist fringe infecting the Democratic Party screams a message of tolerance through an intolerant program of “wokeness”.  Significantly, these pampered pooches haven’t agreed to give up one iota of their privileged, coastal-elite existence to bring their utopia to fruition.

Since no one is listening to each other and the few voices of reason have been drowned out by a sea of intolerance, there is a mad scramble to impose intolerance through the capture of the political process.  Too many states are passing “secure voting” laws that are designed solely to suppress the votes of people who are deemed politically and socially undesirable and inferior.  Virtually all the states are racing to create gerrymandered districts that will distort the outcome of elections over the next ten years.  Our Constitution stands in grave danger of becoming more useful as toilet paper.

So where do we find hope in this time of despair? History teaches us that intolerance eventually burns itself out due to its own excesses.  The Inquisition eventually ran out of victims to torture and murder in the name of God.  The American Civil War ended when the “secesh” states ran out of people to fight and die on the battlefield.  The covid pandemic will end when the virus runs out of people to kill.

My hope is that our country will reject intolerance sooner rather than later. My despair is that we value our lives and the lives of others so cheaply that we are willing to watch so many people die before our intolerance finally burns out.  

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps small businesses create human resources policies and risk mitigation programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at http://www.normashirk.com). To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

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My December Dilemma

Photo by Ksenia Chernaya on Pexels.com

Every year, right around this time, I start to feel stirrings.  All around me I begin to hear holiday (actually Christmas) music, decorative lights appear on the houses in my neighborhood and of course, there are the sales.  It’s hard not to be drawn into the frivolity and cheer.  My religious tradition however, has little, if any, public displays involving our winter holiday of Hanukah.  Traditional Hanukah music runs to the minor key variety and, let’s face it, “The Dreidel Song,” just isn’t particularly sexy.  Not to mention the home décor of the holiday is, well, let’s just say in order to stay away from the tacky, it’s crucial to use a LOT of imagination!  The traditional foods might be the best part; anything cooked in oil to remind us of the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight nights, rather than for just one, is on the menu.  Jelly donuts and potato pancakes are a highlight.  It’s enough to make any nice Jewish girl yell, “Oy!” and, “Bah, Chumbug!”  (Imagine that in Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s voice and you’ll get the picture). 

Every year I try to write something meaningful, spiritual and educational about my Jewish traditions.  There are, after all, a lot of lessons to be learned about bravery, perseverance and hope in the Hanukah story.  During the darkest days of the year the candles we light encourage us to look for the light in our hearts and our souls.  But this year has felt like one long, dark night.  Much has been lost to all of us.  My usual sunny disposition has felt clouded by fear and sadness.  Can eight little multi-colored candles really do much to lift my spirits?  Can they do more than a 10-foot, pine smelling, Christmas tree filled with sparkly ornaments and blazing lights?  (I’m not suggesting I’d get a tree lest my parents rise up from their graves in a hellish nightmare of a, “Goldie’s Dream,” from, “Fiddler on the Roof.”).  It’s no wonder Jews of all ages sometimes feel a touch of envy at the glorious, festive and public spirit of Christmas. 

But, and here’s the deal, the fried potatoes, the jelly donuts, the chintzy homemade decorations and the simple candles, are all part of MY tradition.  They are the outward expression of thousands of years of suffering, courage and survival.  This has been a year like no other in recent memory, for sure.  But my people are no strangers to coping with tough times.  Jews comprise less than one-quarter percent of the world’s population and yet, our numbers are increasing, albeit slowly.  Perhaps this is due to better health outcomes and longer life spans.  But perhaps it is also due to the observance of traditions like lighting Hanukah candles and singing in a minor key.  In the midst of chaos, illness, death and fear, holding onto familiar rituals helps us all, regardless of religion, remain standing.  Tacky paper decorations and greasy food marks the passage of time and serves to remind us that this, too, shall pass.  My December holiday may not be flashy or glamorous, but the memories it evokes do lift my spirits and carry me both back in time to happier days and spin me forward into an unknown, but surely different, future. 

I still sometimes feel like a kid looking in the window of a toy store, just able to look but not go inside.  Thankfully I can appreciate the music, I can visit places with lights and a tree, and I can celebrate another year surviving the darkness that has surrounded mankind.  I can also take comfort and pride in a jelly donut or a paper chain and know that I come from a people who survived the worst of times and still manages to celebrate eight crazy nights with some little colored candles.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at www.jewishobservernashville.org .

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Happy Hanukkah 2019


Tonight, people around the world will be celebrating Christmas Eve, to be followed in the morning by a Christmas Day extravaganza of gifting, eating, spending time with family and friends and maybe attending a church service.  For my family, tonight is the third night of Hanukkah, a fairly minor holiday within the Jewish holiday calendar, but one with some significant lessons, nonetheless.

To begin, this year the holiday falls just after the Winter Solstice, which is the day with the least amount of daylight.  As we light the candles, adding one each night for eight nights, it’s easy to imagine the Menorah lighting our way in the darkest days of the year.  And this lesson is the one most often discussed, that even in the darkest of times, there is light.  And it’s a lovely lesson to share.  But there is actually more to it than that.

The story of Hanukkah goes that when the Greeks desecrated the ancient Temple in the first Century BCE, a small but mighty band of Jewish rebels rose up and liberated it.  In preparing the Temple for rededication, there appeared to be only enough oil to light the holy lamp for one day but miraculously the oil lasted for eight until more could be prepared.  The Hanukkah festival was created to remember that miracle.  But here’s the thing: there’s no actual proof the miracle happened and the history about the events that occurred is a bit murky, according to Jewish scholars and historians.  But that’s the case with many biblical era events, isn’t it?

For me, the veracity of the story is less important than the symbolism.  In addition to lighting the candles in a special candelabra, or Menorah, there is also a specific order for lighting the candles.  It all starts with the Shamash, or helper candle.  This one is lit first and is used to light each of the other candles.  They are placed in the Menorah from right to left, with new candles being added each night.  The Shamash starts lighting the newest candle first, continuing until all are lit for the night.

So many rules, amiright???  Yes, lots of rules for even the smallest task.  But think about it, when there are rules it forces one to be mindful, to consider what is required and to remember.  Each year my family discusses the order for lighting the Menorah and each year we discuss the meaning of the lights and we remember the story.  We remember our history and our place in it, our place in today’s world and our place in our family.  As we light the Hanukkah candles, we think about that small band of rebels who stood up for their beliefs and we are reminded that each of us can make a big difference it the world.  And just like the Shamash, we need to help each other to be a light in the darkest of times, wherever we are and whatever is happening.

So, here’s wishing you all a season of joy and charging each of you to be a light in the darkness.


About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a small business owner, journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the proud owner of Nashville Pilates Company, a boutique Pilates studio in Nashville’s Wedgewood/Houston neighborhood.  Check it out at  www.nashvillepilatescompany.com.  She is also the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Visit http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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A Christmas Truce


December is a difficult time of year for many people.  December can be especially lonely for soldiers who are far from home.  In 1914, lonely soldiers caused one of the most extraordinary Christmas events.  They (briefly) stopped the First World War.

The impromptu ceasefire began on December 7, 1914, when Pope Benedict XV suggested a temporary ceasefire so that the soldiers in the trenches could celebrate Christmas.  The governments of Britain, France and Germany refused to observe an official ceasefire.

It’s not clear why they said no, but there were probably two main reasons for refusing a ceasefire.  First, no one was tired of the war.  In December 1914, the war was only about five months old.  The major slaughters, like the Battle of the Somme when a million men were casualties, didn’t happen until 1916.

Second, and I think more importantly, the governments opposed a ceasefire out of fear.  Specifically, fear of fraternization.  Soldiers are better able to do their job of killing the enemy if they don’t know their enemy.  It’s why we demonize our opponents as a faceless “other” and use derogatory nicknames to dehumanize them.  If a soldier sees the enemy as human with a family and personal aspirations, it becomes difficult to shoot to kill.

Consider the line “from a distance, you look like my friend, even though we are at war.”  It’s taken from an anti-war song called “From a Distance.”  The song became popular during the First Persian Gulf War in the early 1990’s and it evokes a universal sentiment.

In 1914, the soldiers in the trenches ignored their governments and saw the enemy as a friend.  On Christmas Eve, they sang Christmas carols to each other across no-man’s land.  On Christmas Day, they crossed no-man’s land to exchange food and talk of their families back home.  In one instance, they played a game of football (i.e., soccer).

After Christmas, some of the soldiers decided they couldn’t return to war.  One anecdote says that some French and German soldiers refused to fight each other.  Their commanders threatened them with all sorts of disciplinary action to no avail.  Eventually, the affected French and German units were pulled out of their trenches and sent to fight in other sectors.

The Christmas Truce of 1914 has never been repeated.  As wars continue around the world, that is one of the saddest commentaries on this holiday season.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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The Other Side of the Couch – New Traditions?!

Traditions 2

I don’t really remember a time when the Christmas season was not filled with activity.  I grew up in a home with four other siblings and Christmas was a great event in our house.  My earliest memories involve sneaking down the stairs with my sister to see if Santa had come, and being absolutely convinced that Santa Claus was real, because ALL the presents were there, and Daddy and Mommy were asleep!  As I grew to adulthood Christmas continued to be the central holiday when the family gathered.  It was also true that as an adult I became much more involved in the preparing of these seemingly effortless rituals that culminated in the perfect Christmas morning, the presents wrapped and prepared for all, the Christmas breakfast and the Christmas dinner prepared and ready to serve.  I have loved Christmas and enjoyed the traditions of having my own home and making these traditions ours.

Now with my own home and my own adult, married daughter and my own Christmas to prepare, I am facing a first.  My daughter is spending Christmas with her husband’s family in another state.

No matter what I tell myself – that this is normal, that this is right, that this is her life, that we will be fine– I am overcome with sadness.  All of the wisdom I have so readily shared with others – make your own plans, create your own traditions, make this a day that is right for you, do a service project for others – pales in the face of this new reality.

As I face this, I think of my mother, whose five children grew up and scattered far across this country, rarely being all in the same place at the same time as adults.  I wonder how this felt for her.  I wonder how she bore it when I swanned off to South America for six years.   I wonder if she felt the same kind of emptiness in the face of this absence of what is, in the end, a part of one’s self.

So a part of my heart is going to be in North Carolina this Christmas.  I will bear up and be brave and have a good day.  And I will do my best to support my daughter in her choices, perhaps on the inside having a little childish tantrum that says “What about ME!” but hopefully not letting that part of me get in the way of giving her what she needs as an adult.  I will take my own advice, and my husband and I will do something different on Christmas.  It will be different, and it will be ok, and we will all grow a little bit in new ways.

I will hope for some new traditions that will translate into new ways of being for all of us.

So – Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays – Whatever you celebrate, make it a tradition that works for you.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP:

Susan is a communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, and proud native Nashvillian. She has been in private practice for over 30 years. As she says, “I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts.”  Contact Susan at http://www.susanhammondswhite.com

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